According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost 5% of American adults experience regular feelings of depression. This common but serious mood disorder causes severe symptoms that affect how a person feels, thinks, and goes about daily tasks. The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that protects a person’s ability to take a leave from their job for certain family, medical and mental health reasons, including depression.
The U.S. Department of Labor explains that FMLA, “entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons with continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave.”
This leave can last up to 12 weeks. It requires specific criteria to be met for an employee to be eligible. These include:
- Working for a company with 50 or more employees or working for public agencies, including federal and state employers
- Having worked for the same employer for at least 12 months
- Having worked at least 1,250 hours with the same employer during the 12 months before the requested leave
- Having worked at a location with at least 50 employees, or a location that has 50 employees within 75 miles
If a person’s employer doesn’t meet these criteria for FMLA, another option is to pursue using short-term disability for a leave from work.
Additionally, someone seeking FMLA for a mental health concern may be required to give their employer advance notice of any requested leave or provide documentation from a therapist, doctor, or another medical provider regarding their depression. These concerns can include depression, anxiety, substance abuse, or other medically diagnosed mental illnesses.
On top of the potential to take leave for depression, there are other protections for individuals living with a mental health condition. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission explains that someone with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or another mental health condition is protected against discrimination and harassment at work. Additionally, the person has workplace privacy rights and a legal right to receive reasonable accommodations to help them perform and keep their job.
How to Take Time Off for Depression
While each person’s situation and mental health needs are unique, there are some basic steps to follow if someone is considering taking time off from work for their mental health. These include:
- Speaking with a mental health care provider — A licensed professional can help diagnose depression or other conditions and provide actionable advice on the best way to move forward.
- Determining their FMLA eligibility — If someone is eligible for FMLA, their employer must provide them with leave under certain conditions.
- Meeting with the human resource department — This person will help explain all the available options.
- Finalizing plans with their health care provider — Those individuals using FMLA-approved leave will need their doctor to complete the appropriate paperwork.
- Returning the appropriate paperwork to their employer — This will include the necessary FMLA paperwork from a doctor, as well as key contacts, files, or other information to help whoever is temporarily taking on the person’s role.
- Specifying how they will take their leave — Clarify how and when the leave will be taken.
- Developing a plan for taking care of their mental health — Make good use of the time away from work to develop healthy habits and cultivate effective coping mechanisms to help the person protect and maintain their mental health.
Signs of Poor Mental Health
The next step is determining when and if someone needs to take time off from their job for depression. Some common signs that an individual is experiencing poor mental health include:
- Seemingly drastic personality changes
- Agitation or uncharacteristically angry demeanor
- Withdrawal from social interaction
- Poor hygiene (substance abuse or physical hygiene)
- Feelings of hopelessness
Mental Health is Important
Unfortunately, many people still find a stigma attached to addressing mental health needs that aren’t associated with physical well-being. But mental health is as important as physical health, and issues with mental health, whether burnout, depression, or something else, will likely happen to just about everyone at some point.
If someone feels their employee is retaliating against them because of a mental health condition, they should contact the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to file a claim.
A licensed mental health and substance abuse intensive outpatient program (IOP) in Scottsdale, Arizona, Rising Phoenix was created to offer a safe, welcoming, and nurturing environment where clients are not judged, but embraced, throughout their recovery process.